NFL Media reporter and columnist Jim Trotter went viral on Super Bowl Sunday thanks to a chance encounter with halftime performer Rihanna. Hopefully, people were also paying attention to a question that he asked of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell earlier in the week regarding diversity in NFL Media leadership, which was given a complete non-answer.
When Trotter asked Goodell, for the second straight year, why there aren’t more Black journalists in the NFL newsroom and why there has never been a Black person in NFL Media senior leadership, the commissioner hemmed, hawed, and evaded culpability in a way that seemed to imply it wasn’t all that important to him or the league.
“I am not in charge of the newsroom,” Goodell said before he began to stammer. “Can I answer your question? As you point out, it’s the same question you asked last year. And we did go back and we have reviewed everything we’ve been doing across the league. And we are looking at everything from vendors that we’re working with, to partners that we’re working with, to ownership where we’ve seen significant changes in diversity just this year. And I do not know specifically about the media business.
“We’ll check in again with our people,” Goodell added. “But I am comfortable that we made significant progress across the league. I can’t answer the specific questions. Some of the data you may have raised there may be accurate, may be not. Last year, I was told some of it wasn’t. We’ll get to you on that. We want to make progress across the board. And that includes in the media room. And so those are things that we’ll continue to look at and hopefully make real progress to. I can’t answer because I do not know specifically what those numbers are today.”
This is what Roger Goodell came up with after having 80 seconds to think through his response to @JimTrotter_NFL's question about diversity issues at NFL Media (which Trotter also asked him about last year) pic.twitter.com/EQlbrsI0hg
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 8, 2023
Trotter stopped by the Sports Media with Richard Deitsch podcast on Wednesday and talked about why he asked the question for a second-consecutive year and what it means that the NFL doesn’t seem very interested in having a conversation about it.
Deitsch asked Trotter why he decided to ask the question once again and the reason was pretty obvious. He never got an answer the first time.
“Because I believe as a journalist, it’s part of our job to hold people accountable for the things that they say,” said Trotter. “And the commissioner and the NFL repeatedly over the years have said that diversity, equity, and inclusion are core principles of the NFL. And if that is true, then how can we have the type of data and numbers that we have as it related to Black people in the NFL, particularly in positions of power?
“They don’t let you get close to the commissioner often enough to actually have these dialogues. So, I knew that I had asked him about it the year before, and I knew that there had been no progress. No real progress as it related to the areas that I asked him about a year earlier. And so I felt that it was important to ask him in that situation because it’s not something that I haven’t brought up internally over the course of the last year with the powers that be at the media group.
“Some people think that I’m attacking the commissioner, and I am not attacking the commissioner. All that I am asking is that the league’s actions reflect their words. And to this point, that is not what we have. And I believe it is critically important for there to be Black representation in senior management, in the newsroom, based on the fact that we cover a player population, according to league data, that is 60 to 70% Black. Because if we don’t have that, it means that there is no one who looks like these players or who has shared the cultural experience that these players have had at the decision-making table when they are deciding how these men are covered, who covers them, and when they’re covered. So for me, that is an issue, because what I was brought up in J-school is that a newsroom is supposed to be reflective of the community that it covers. And that is not the case at the NFL, and therefore I wanted to ask the commissioner about it.”
Trotter disputed the notion that Goodell is absolved from responsibility because he is “not in charge of the newsroom.”
“If you watch the clip, you will see I tried to respond to him when he said ‘I don’t manage the newsroom.’ And my response to him is, indirectly, you do, and that’s when he cut me off and said ‘Can I answer? Can I answer?’ because look, the reality is the league office sets our budget at NFL Media,” said Trotter. “They know who the employees are and who they are not. The senior management of NFL Media has to report their diversity numbers to the league office as does every department in the NFL, so, if he is unaware of these things, the people who are directly under him who are responsible for these issues should know these numbers.”
When asked if Goodell or anyone from the NFL front office reached out to him following last Wednesday’s press conference, the sad but predictable answer was “No.”
“I’ve not heard from anyone in the league office,” said Trotter. “I’ve not heard from the senior manager in the newsroom. I’ve heard from one person and that’s one of the editors in the newsroom who I was crossing paths with as I entered the stadium and we had a conversation just about why I asked the question that I had asked and where he is on this whole issue. And that is it.
Truthfully, Richard, I think that’s the most disappointing thing to me. If you’re serious about this. I mean, really serious about it, genuinely serious about it. And I raised this question to you a year ago. And no one from the league office has reached out to me one time to say ‘Let’s have a conversation and see if we can come up with ways to address some of these issues. It makes me question whether or not you’re really that serious or whether all of these statements are just performative gestures to kinda deflect what’s actually going on.”
— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) February 15, 2023
Trotter also said that he doesn’t anticipate anyone reaching out to him from the NFL or NFL Media senior management in the near future.
“If you haven’t done it by now, why would you do it going forward?” he asked.
Trotter added that he sees his line of questioning as less “brave” and “courageous” than something he needs to do as an elder statesman in the journalism world, especially as a Black journalist. He also noted that his contract is “up in April” and “has not been extended to this point.” If his time with NFL does end at that time, he’s not worried about finding a new job.
However, if his time does end with the NFL in April with no answers to the questions he’s asked of Roger Goodell the past two years, it will be pretty clear how unseriously Goodell and the NFL actually take issues of diversity in the places where it matters.